Know what, The Shins get a lot of unwarranted criticism sometimes.
They aren’t a bad band – they’re not even mediocre or boring – just sort of “there.” Their musicianship is top notch; they can arrange a catchy pop song that’s just long enough to keep and finish the point, and they come up with accessible and fairly clever lyrics, so why aren’t people singing their praises more? When their latest album came up as a review suggestion I immediately thought that…
… It’s because they have no souls – that’s a desirable quality to A&R reps and the like.
I’ve always imagined “filler” bands like the Shins to be kept in the Rolodex just in case some scouting quota or whatever still persists as “discovering” new music fails to secure anything particularly remarkable. It’s old hat, really.
In the 1980s, four veteran prog rock musicians started a band called Asia…
So it’s the guitar player from the band Yes, the drummer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the bass player from King Crimson, and the dude who played piano/synth in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video. Keep an eye out for this particular guy, because I think if he’s still interested in contributing to music on that level he could fucking save everything and everyone being discussed here from becoming cold case files or whatever bullshit euphemism I’m not quite finding right now.
Asia was apparently the very first Bland Rock supergroup.
Who the fuck actually really listened to – never mind a few Yes and ELP songs that made FM charts in the 1970s – fucking King Crimson? A few snobby disc jockeys and this one guy Geoff that I occasionally hung around with in the 90s who went to Berklee College of Music. I’m fairly sure that’s it. Anyway, I digress – and I was already on kind of a tangent, so my bad there.
My point is that nobody in the band Asia was charismatic enough to deliver whatever the hell message they were trying to get through, so no one really cared what it was.
Their music was tolerable enough to leave on, but not really able to keep any attention on – kind of like a subliminal self help audio. Maybe you remember that stuff later, but not having ever learned it. Best example is “Heat of the Moment.”
The Shins are like “Heat of the Moment”.
It’s filler music specifically designed for “listeners also bought” solicitation… as was Asia to MTV heavy rotation before, so is the Shins to iTunes suggestions.
The way they show up after you’ve purchased or at least browsed through a bunch of stuff that was released around the same time is something like an Asia video coming on straight after you’ve just seen the video for “You’ve got Another Thing Comin’”- and you’re still thinking about how fucking awesome Rob Halford is and Asia aren’t different or horrible enough to harsh on that mellow.
That’s fucking smart promo work, right there: say you’ve just bought everything that seemed really good on an afternoon iTunes binge and you’re not quite sure you’ve downloaded enough music for a big listening. That Shins song isn’t bad… that’ll tie me up for the day when I’m winding down from everything else I’m real excited to hear.
Anyway, may as well get to the point here…
The first track on Heartworms is “Name for You.” It’s not a bad song – I wouldn’t frantically swerve off the road just to be melodramatic if it started playing in the car, but I’d probably pick or skip to something else if it was appropriate for me to choose a listening selection.
It’s a bit overly thought-out… there’s some unpredicted dipping and veering off into lyrical and melody tangents that leaves me thinking they’d get the point across better if they didn’t try so hard.
This track is called “Painting a Hole.” The live performance is – ahh… “eponymous?” I think is a good description? I mean it really does sound like the dude’s painting a fucking hole. THAT’S AWESOME.
See, this performance is a very good example of what the Shins are missing.
It’s a good performance and it’s really not that bad of a song either… it’s just when listening to it I find myself thinking about how it’d sound with the entire band replaced by maybe some younger people, like the Wrecks – someone in that vein.
Actually it really wouldn’t matter who it was. (I just said the Wrecks because my fifteen year old daughter likes that band). Asia could probably do that track justice as a cover; however I believe John Wetton is sadly no longer with us. So maybe here’s a great excuse to pry the singer from the Buggles to handle the vocal. He’s got the bass guitar thing down, so all bases covered, right there. Plus I’m pretty sure that guy sang for Yes on a tour once because Jon Anderson was out picking wildflowers in some Elysian Fields for a Wiccan hug charm or whatever.
Appropriately this song is “Dead Alive” – this what I mean by ‘eponymous.’ Motherfucker has some decent ideas, but there’s no spark to it whatsoever.
So anyway, I’ve never intentionally listened to an entire Shins album before.
I’ve downloaded a few individual songs here and there, but nothing of theirs has ever really kept my attention for very long. Honestly I’m glad that I at least put some effort into it, but doesn’t make me want to hear anything else, so I’m staying with my original approach: I wouldn’t mind hearing this stuff again, but I don’t think I’d feel all that moved to mention having written about if it were the background shopping music playing when running into someone who beat me up in high school at the supermarket.
Come to think of it, if “Cherry Hearts” came on while I was talking to the guy I totally wouldn’t hold it against him if it inspired a punch to my stomach for old times’ sake.
Woah… suddenly I feel like seeing if I can’t track down this one particular guy I was thinking of and meet up for coffee and a punch to my stomach for old times’ sake. Once again it’s not a horrible song, but the music I got picked on for listening to when I was in high school was usually completely worth it. I’m not taking a swirly for the fucking Shins. Sorry.
I mean again; not terrible per se, but hardly wedgie worth. That said, I’m not serious about preferring getting punched to hearing this album again, or anything the Shins put out for that matter. It’s fine.
‘It’s fine’ sums up Heartworms – and the Shins entire catalogue, likely – quite well.
They probably couldn’t do a better job even if they tried. They’re just not capable… it’s an ‘X factor’ thing. They don’t have a charismatic enough delegate to pitch their idea and hold interest for very long. I’m gonna try and drive the above-mentioned point home with “Video Killed the Radio Star”, because it’s really the most interesting piece of music I’ve brought up.
THIS ARTICLE IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN KENNETH WETTON (1949-2017) “Only Time will Tell.”
*you can’t even script this stuff.